Apr 172013

It’s a poem for a bee. Because why not.

Shlomo ibn Gabirol (1021? – 1058?)
Sing Your Song, My Lazy Bee

Sing your song, my lazy bee;
  You make it like “Shema’s” decree
You make distinct and long “Eḥad,”1
  You sprinkle for God’s memory
The honey he put ‘neath your tongue
  To ward off gall, your enemy.
If in your eyes, you seem minute —
  You’ve the worth of firstborn progeny.2
You’re no bug, you’re pure as birds —
  Your charms have lent you purity.

שלמה אבן גבירול / سليمان ابن جبيرول
לאטך דברי שירך

לְאִטֵּךְ דַּבְּרִי שִׁירֵךְ, דְּבוֹרָה,
 אֲשֶׁר קִרְיַת “שְׁמַע” מִפִּיךְ יְקֹרָא,
מְיַחֶדֶת וּמַאְרֶכֶת בְּ”אֶחָד”
 וּמַתֶּזֶת בְּזֵכֶר רָם וְנוֹרָא,
אֲשֶׁר נָתַן דְּבַשׁ תַּחַת לְשׁוֹנֵךְ
 וְשָׂם לָךְ לַהֲדֹף אוֹיְבֵךְ מְרֹרָה.
הֲלֹא אִם אַתְּ בְּעֵינַיִךְ קְטַנָּה –
 כְּבוּדָּה אַתְּ וְלָךְ מִשְׁפַּט בְּכוֹרָה.
חֲמוּדוֹת טִהֲרוּ אוֹתָךְ, וְאֵינֵךְ
 כְּשֶׁרֶץ עוֹף אֲבָל צִפּוֹר טְהוֹרָה.


Le’itéikh dabrí shiréikh, devoráh
‘Ashér kiryát shemáʕ mi-píkh yekorá,
Meyaḥédet u-ma’rékhet be-‘eḥád
U-matézet be-zéiker ram ve-norá,
‘Ashér natán devásh táḥat leshonéikh
Ve-sám lakh lahadóf ‘oyvéikh meroráh.
Ha-ló ‘im ‘at be-ʕeináyikh ketanáh —
Kevudáh ‘at ve-lákh mishpát bekhoráh.
Ḥamudót tiharú ‘otákh, ve-‘einéikh
Ke-shéretz ʕof ‘avál tzipór tehoráh.

  1. In the last word of the Shema, (“Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one”) one is required to lengthen the final sound of the final word, eḥad. This custom has fallen out of practice in many communities as the letter dalet has become a voiced alveolar stop in all positions, but originally, in this word-final position it would have been pronounced as a voiced dental fricative, as in the first sound of “this.” Evidently, ibn Gabirol still pronounced it this way (which makes sense) – the point is, the long “dhhhhhhhhhhhh” sound sounds like the buzzing of a bee.
  2. Deuteronomy 21:16

  2 Responses to “Shlomo ibn Gabirol, “Le’iteikh Dabri Shireikh””

  1. One of my favourites!
    There’s a remarkable parallel, cited in Schimmel’s “As Through A Veil: mystical poetry in Islam” in a poem by the medieval Turkish Sufi Yunus Emre, which similarly sees the humming of the bee as a symbol of praise for the Prophet Muhammed (see Schimmel, 1982, pg. 207). In general, I would argue that the idea here of the relationship between Remembrance, Unity, and Praise is closely reminiscent of — and perhaps even in conversation with — the Sufi notion of the links between dhikr, tawhid, and hamd.

    On another note, I wonder if the penultimate couplet is also an allusion to Samuel’s rebuke of Saul in I Samuel 15:17.

  2. Interesting! But is there a parallel to how the actual practice of buzzing the dalet in the Shema does indeed sound like the noise a bee makes?

    And here I was just looking for a nice springtime nature poem.

    To quote the mad Dane: “Buzz, buzz!”

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